Precollege Programs helps bring thousands of young students to campus

GEAR UP middle schoolers enjoy an Ocean Science Camp through OSU. (contributed photo)

Thousands of elementary, middle and high school students come to Oregon State’s campus every year to participate in dozens of pre-college programs. From 4-H summer programs to journalism workshops and everything in between, the programs not only provide enrichment to young students, but also open their eyes to the possibilities of higher education by introducing them to the campus setting.

For the last year and a half, the Office of Precollege Programs has expanded their administrative umbrella to include nearly 20 programs offered on campus, ranging from large projects such as Saturday Academy to a number of small programs. Because many of the programs run on a shoe-string budget, Assistant Director Kyle Cole says the office can provide everything from background checks for staff to grant writing, to dramatically reduce the overhead each individual program must pay, helping them keep fees low for participants.

In 2009, Precollege Programs was able to use grant money to help pay for staff salaries, freeing up money to support programs that were underfunded due to the state budget crisis. They were also able to use seed money for new projects that focused on graduate and undergraduate service learning.

“We’re trying to create more service learning opportunities for undergraduates to plug into on campus,” Cole said. Working alongside Susie Brubaker-Cole, associate provost of Academic Success and Engagement, and Eric Alexander, director of leadership development, Cole hopes to pair up students with programs that will offer them leadership, communication and teaching skills, while benefiting the young students enrolled in the programs. One example of this push towards service-learning is the Volunteer With Kids workshops, a collaboration between Precollege Programs, the SMILE program, KidSpirit & 4-H, to teach undergraduates how to work with young students, and further develop their leadership skills.

Recently, Precollege Programs was awarded a GEAR UP grant to develop a series of summer programs targeting underserved and first generation students from Sweet Home Junior High hoping to attend college. With last year’s grant, they were able to offer an Ocean Science Camp to seventh graders. They will continue that project this year with the new grant, but add an eighth grade Engineering Camp as well. And as the GEAR UP funding ends, the camps will become part of the regular offerings of Saturday Academy, an existing precollege program.

“The purpose of GEAR UP is to bring students in a cohort from a target school (in this case Sweet Home) to campus for academic enrichment and a taste of college,” Cole said. In addition to the science-based curriculum, students also receive college readiness preparation and experience life on a college campus. During the coming engineering camp, students will learn about their own aptitudes and selecting career paths, and focus on what kinds of classes they should take in high school to prepare for their transition into college.

Students participate in dozens of summer programs like Adventures in Learning at Oregon State University. (contributed photo)

Currently, Cole, along with other youth outreach program leaders, is hoping to establish a Center for Youth Outreach and Engagement that would provide a centralized point for all youth programs on campus, allowing potential participants and their parents an easier way to learn about the programs available, and make it easier to promote those programs. Precollege Programs has already launched a new Web site that highlights both the programs offered, and the connection between undergraduates on campus and their work with youth outreach service learning opportunities.

Collaboration is key to the success of Precollege Programs. “There is a growing sense that everyone, from faculty working on broader impacts requirements, to the youth that participate in our programs, are better served if we all work more closely together,” said Cole. After receiving funding from the Oregon Engineering Technology Industry Council, the Center for Outreach in Science and Engineering for Youth (COSEY) is offering an engineering camp to rural communities across the state, with the support of the Colleges of Engineering and Science and Precollege Programs. The programs will offer classes on sustainability and green technology to students in eight different locations, from Coos Bay to Ontario, during the summer.

In addition, Dana Beck, coordinator for Precollege Programs, hosts more than 3,000 students and teachers each year for campus field trips. Typically, the field trips involve Oregon middle schoolers, and are about much more than a scenic tour of campus. Beck finds out what subject or area the visitors are interested in, and arranges hands-on activities and behind-the-scenes tours of laboratories and research centers, making sure to include discussions by undergraduate and graduate students as well as professors. They also get to have a meal on campus and stop in at places such as Dixon Recreation Center or one of the cultural centers on campus.

“They get a feel for different aspects of college,” Beck said. “We focus on underrepresented and minority students to plant the seed that higher education is attainable.”

To learn more about Precollege Programs, go to http://oregonstate.edu/precollege/

~ Theresa Hogue

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